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Insecurity, poverty fueling child malnutrition in Borno State

…Severe malnutrition hits Borno, Adamawa, Yobe

By Chioma Obinna

Not many Nigerians are aware of the devastating impact of insurgency in the North-East. While many people talk about killings, shootings and bombings by Boko Haram, victims continue to live in lack.

Women and children in the communities are the worst hit as thousands of children in Borno State are ravaged by all manner of diseases including Severe Malnutrition, SAM, a life-threatening condition which experts say has crossed the World Health Organisation, WHO, 10 per cent threshold.

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Borno and two other states in the region, Adamawa and Yobe, now grouped as BAY states, have been identified as states with a high burden of SAM. A visit to Borno showed that SAM is real and, despite the efforts of international organizations like UNICEF and DFID, the menace persists.

Health officials at medical facilities in the state said the number of children treated was like just scratching the surface of the problem, as more people are displaced from their communities by Boko Haram.

Verge of losing child

Imagine being sacked from your home. Now think of being abducted alongside your spouse by a dreaded group a few months later and your husband is dead. Then you find that you are a month pregnant and you are fed once a day. You manage to be delivered of the baby but you are on the verge of losing the child to a preventable disease. All these and more are the situation many displaced persons like Amina Saidu, Libabatu Musa, Alimoudu, all from Borno State and environs, are facing on daily basis.

For Amina, a native of Barma, insurgency shattered her dreams.

She lost her home, husband and she is at the verge of losing her child to Severe Acute Malnutrition, SAM.

Meanwhile, thanks to the timely intervention of the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, with support from the DFID, treating children with the Ready -To -Use Therapeutic Food, RUTF, specially made for the treatment of SAM.

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The pain in Amina’s heart was obvious but, just like thousands of women who have lost their husbands and other family members, she braced up for the challenge.

Having survived several months in Boko Haram captivity, Amina has other challenges to tackle: malnutrition, hunger and poverty as she can barely feed her children three times a day even in the IDP camp.

“We were fed once a day in the camp of Boko Haram. I was one month pregnant when they abducted me and my husband and my husband was later killed. Then I was delivered of my baby”, she narrated to Sunday Vanguard in her native Hausa language.

“But even now that we are out of Boko Haram captivity, we can’t go home and feeding at the IDP camp is nothing to write home about.

“My child is worst hit by malnutrition. At age four, he can barely crawl. He has no energy to either stand not to talk of walk”.

Screening showed the boy, Ayuba, is suffering from SAM, the level of malnutrition UNICEF described as life-threatening.

Meanwhile, figures from UNICEF show that the malnutrition situation in Borno has passed WHO’s 10 per cent threshold, making the response an emergency.

In 2018 alone, a total of 37,378 children were treated for malnutrition by UNICEF while in 2019, 321,000 children are estimated to suffer from SAM.

Indeed, Ayuba is one of the estimated 440, 000 boys and girls under the age of five in BAY states that will suffer from SAM in 2019.

Amina said: “Boko Haram attacked our village in 2016 and abducted my husband and I among other community people.

“At some point, they killed my husband and somehow we found ourselves in Niger Republic.

“At their (Boko Haram) camp, we were fed with rice or spaghetti a day which was not always enough.

“At some point, I realised that my child was not growing like normal children. After we were rescued from Boko Haram in Niger and we were moved to Nigeria, I discovered that the child was suffering from malnutrition.

“He was in that terrible condition until five days ago when officials of UNICEF screened him and started administering RUTF”.

She appealed for peace in her community and assistance to support her little business in order to feed her children, saying: “I am excited that my son is now improving because he was in a very bad state”.

Not lucky

But unlike Amina’s son, Ayuba, four year-old-Alimoudu was not that lucky. There were conflicting reports about the whereabouts of his parents.

While an account said his parents abandoned him, the grandfather insisted that they were killed by Boko Haram.

According to the grandfather, Mohammadu Ali, Alimoudu became an orphan as a result of insurgency that claimed the lives of his parents.

Since then, life has not been any easy for the boy and grandfather as they practically begged for food to eat.

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According to Ali, Alimoudu, who had been battling with malnutrition since last year, was alive because he ran away with him in the midst of the crisis in their village.

“The boy never sucked breast, he was three months old when I took him away. When we came to Maiduguri, we were begging and I was also a security guard so as to earn money to survive”, the grandpa said.

“He has been feeding only on pap that is why he became malnourished.”

Alimoudu is among the children in Borno being treated for malnutrition. He has been on treatment for the past eight weeks.

“I took him to the CMAC site after UNICEF officials visited our IDP camp in Dikwa and screened him for malnutrition. I am happy he is okay now,” the grandpa said.

Another victim is 16-month-old Adamu Musa.

According to his mother, Libabatu Musa, who is also an internally displaced person living in Shuwaruwan community, Adamu has issues with malnutrition.

She narrated how it all started with fever when his son was 10 months old but little did she know it was something bigger like SAM, also known as Tamuwa in their language.

Adamu is being treated with RUTF in one of the UNICEF centres in Borno.

But prior to the treatment, she had sought the help of traditional healers.

Out of ignorance, she tried to treat him with herbs but his condition continued to deteriorate.

“When my son was 11 months old in our native Shuaruwan community, he began to lose weight rapidly”, she narrated.

“We thought he was suffering from dehydration as a result of diarrhoea.

“We took him to traditional healers, then to the General Hospital but there was no improvement in his condition. He was emaciated, without appetite and always crying.

“We were later referred to the Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition Centre, CMAMC, Mala Kachalla in Maiduguri where he was placed on RUTF.

“He has not only regained his weight but he now eats whatever he is given”.

The stories of Amina, Alimoudu and Adamu tells how malnutrition is widespread in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe courtesy of insecurity, poverty and ignorance.

Although N5 billion is needed for the the procurement of 258,950 cartons of RUTF for SAM treatment, funding has been secured for only 29,314 cartons, leaving a funding gap of N4.4billion for the procurement of 229,636 cartons.

UNICEF response

Consequently, UNICEF officials are worried that the displacement of more persons in the North-East may further exacerbate the already poor nutrition situation.

According to UNICEF’s Nutrition Specialist, Usman Aminu, while there has been a slight improvement in the nutrition situation in Borno, wide-spread insecurity, population displacement; poor food security situation, sub-optimal water, hygiene and sanitation practices and high disease burden have continued to strain the on-going efforts to curb malnutrition in all its forms in the region.

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According to the latest Nutrition Survey, the prevalence of Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) among boys and girls aged below five years is 11 per cent in Borno, 13 per cent in Yobe and six per cent Adamawa, indicating very high levels of malnutrition according to the WHO classification.

“The Protracted Access Constraints has made the Situation even worse in Rann (Kala Balge), South Yobe, Magumeri, Jere and Konduga Local Government Areas”, he said.

“If not timely identified and treated, malnutrition has serious and permanent consequences in the growth and development of children”.

Also speaking on the issue, UNICEF Nutrition Specialist, Borno Field Office, Abigael Nyukuri, said children suffering from SAM are four to 11 times more likely to die compared to their healthy counterparts.

“Children suffering from SAM are immune-compromised, increasing their likelihood to suffer from a range of infections and disease complications”, she said.

“Malnutrition causes irreversible brain damage and compromised intellectual capacity in adulthood leading to reduced productivity and an estimated 16 percent loss in the Growth Domestic product”.

Nyukuri disclosed that to curb malnutrition in all its forms, UNICEF, with funding from DFID, is implementing two multi-sectoral projects to promote positive nutrition outcomes in the North-East: The Flexible Integrated and Timely (FIT) Project in Borno and Working to Improve Nutrition in Northern Nigeria (WINNN) project in Yobe State.

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